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The occupation of Catalonia. Franco’s dictatorship. Oppression and exil

20th Century AC
After the hard and definitive Battle of the Ebro, the national army started to occupy the rest of the areas of Catalan geography, from Barcelona as far as the frontier. With the republican defeat, thousands of people chose exile and some were never able to come back. An oppressive dictatorship which, would last forty years, was just beginning.

Once the transcendent and bloody conflict of the Battle of the Ebro was finished on December 23rd 1938, the national side initiated the final occupation of Catalonia. The republican army was faltering and the conquest of territory was accompanied by intense bombings which caused important destruction to city, villages and roads. In total, more than 800 people lost their lives in the last month and a half of the republican Catalonia.

The national side’s occupation of many places, by the regular units and the legion, was accompanied by raids, stealing of food, clothes and objects of value. There were also frequent cases of beatings of those who dared resist and raping of women. There were more than 300 shootings, of which the victims were Catalans who had been accused, in an unfounded way, of being republicans or confronting the national army. Outside the desired end to the war, the fear exerted by the drafted side saw that, in some districts, Franco’s troops were received enthusiastically.

Little by little, the Catalan cities started to fall. Barcelona gave-in between January 26th and February 1939. The definitive human cost of the war, in Catalonia, oscillated according to the sources, between 65-73.000 deaths. The progressive advance of Franco’s troops forced thousands of people to flee from Catalonia in the direction of France. An approximate total of 440.000 individuals, half the republican soldiers, of which 100.000 were Catalan, crossed the frontier. Thousands of them ended up being interned in improvised concentration camps, in deplorable conditions. Over time, some 275.000 were able to leave these camps.

Many Catalan politicians and intellectuals were able to live their exile in France, England or in countries on the other side of the Atlantic, like Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela or the United States. The lack of understanding between ERC and PSUC made it so that president Companys could not form a consolidated government in exile, which is an event which created an important political confusion. The Catalan supporters did not trust the ‘Servicio de Evacuación de Republicanos Españoles’ [Service of Evacuation of Spanish Republicans] and received help from the ‘Junta de Ayuda a los Republicanos Españoles’ [Board of Help for Spanish Republicans] which was chaired by the politician and writer Lluís Nicolau d’Olwer.

One of the most immediate repercussions towards the Catalan population was the elevated demographical decrease due to the large number of deaths, the exiled and revenges due to the war, most of who were of a fertile age. This meant that the indexes of marriages and employment were also low. However, Catalonia recuperated with immigration from the rest of Spain.

Franco’s new regime was very clear that the repression had to be one of its weapons to be able to frighten and, at the same time, control the population, and especially, the Catalan population. Between 1939 and 1953 3.585 people were shot, by means of fraudulent war councils. These were a series of crimes which decreased considerably in 1943 with the political turn taken by the Second World War. Most of those shot were anarchic-syndicate supporters and members of ERC, who had not undertaken any relevant political role and who thought they would not suffer reprisals, and for this reason had not fled. However, illustrious personalities of politics and culture were shot, like the writer, journalist, historian and politician Carles Rahola Llorens, the anarchic-syndicate supporter Joan Peiró Belis and, especially, the president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Lluís Companys Jover, who was murdered on October 15th 1940. Companys was detained in France by the Gestapo on August 13th and later kidnapped by the Spanish police.

As well as the physical repression, there was also a more psychological repression with a marked religious character, which pointed out the need to ‘pay’ for the crimes committed by the republicans. The end objective was none other than discrediting the defeated and betraying, as part of a ‘civil duty’, those enemies of the regime.

Imprisonment was another way to exercise repression towards the population. In July 1939 the Regional Tribunal of Political Responsibilities was constituted in Barcelona, with the aim of regulating the confiscation of patrimony belonging to the parties, syndicates, associations and people considered to be ‘disaffected’. The war councils were totally undemocratic and were characterised by their quick trials which were almost without defence.

Most Catalan soldiers who were detained were sent to camps outside Catalonia. Normally they were destined to work battalions where they undertook, amongst other things, the reconstruction tasks of bridges, roads, railways and public buildings. Those who chose to redeem their crimes through working managed to reduce the sentence to a third and obtain a paltry income for their families.

In 1942, the number of inmates in Catalan prisons had risen to 14.500 people, which is a number to which we must add the 2.500 condemned to forced labour. The regime’s mechanisms did not stop here, as it also undertook a large number of patrimonial and economical confiscations. The debunking of civil servants was another one of the methods that was used by the dictatorship: 512 municipal employees of the capitals of the four Catalan provinces were sacked, 126 suspended between one and five years and 743 sanctioned with loss of salary between one and eleven months. Another sector which also suffered debunking was teaching: one out of each six school teachers was expelled from the group and the students were brought into the ‘Sindicato Español Universitario’ [Spanish University Syndicate], which was controlled by the Falangists and which had a license to suppress any type of manifestation which was contrary to the regime.

The clear objective of Franco’s regime was the elimination of all that was related to Catalonia. The first visible example was General Franco’s repeal of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in Burgos, on April 5th 1938: “However, the entrance of our glorious weapons into the Catalan territory brings forth a strictly administrative problem, that is, the deduction of the practical consequences of that abrogation. Therefore, the important question in hand is the re-establishment of a regime of public law which, in accordance with the principle of unity of the fatherland, returns to those provinces the honour of being governed in an equal way to its sister-regions in the rest of Spain”.

The ‘Catalan event’ was one of the subjects to which the regime gave the greatest effort to annul. On a cultural note, we must point out that the Institute of Catalan Studies (IEC) was expelled from its headquarters in the ‘Casa de la Convalescència’ [House of Convalescence]. The IEC managed to initially continue with its works thanks to the economical assistance of the ‘Benèfica Minerva’ [Minerva Charity].

From the beginning of the Civil War until the end of the Second World War, it was not possible to publish in Catalan. The only publication, many of which were of a notable quality, that reached Catalonia came from exiled intellectuals. From 1945 until 1951, it was permitted to re-edit classics of the Catalan language, but with the orthography from before the philologist Pompeu Fabra. In 1946 twelve books were edited in Catalan, in 1948, sixty, in 1954, ninety-six and in 1960 one hundred and eighty-three.

In 1951 the publication of new books of literary creation in Catalan in the fields of theatre, poetry and novel was permitted. However, the essay, the scientific works and translations were still prohibited, which was a censorship that was lifted half way through the 1950’s. Nevertheless, the censure was even more restrictive.

Franco’s regime also made a special incidence in the political and administrative institutions to be found in Catalonia. The military ambit was controlled by Captain Generals, while the civil ambit was represented by the Civil Governor of Barcelona, who was the representative of the Governing minister of the province and whose function was to direct the political action of the government and coordinate the action of all the ministerial delegations. He also controlled local administration and the public order forces. In this blunt manner thirty-six years of obscurity of the new dictatorial regime commenced.

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